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Women in science: the importance of role models

BLOG | May 2, 2023 – We all know that role models are important in everyday life. What girl wouldn’t want to have Serena’s tennis skills, sing like Beyonce or, more simply, buy her own flowers like Miley? This world doesn’t just need more Serenas, Beyonces or Mileys. What we desperately need is more women in science. But where are the role models there?

CITC, being an innovation center in chip packaging, is largely populated by men. There is one exception though. The team focused on RF chip packaging consists of five women and only one man. Program manager is Francesca Chiappini. She has a PhD in physics and has been working in science ever since. When we talk about her school and professional career, one thing stands out: she was always surrounded by female role models.

Role models everywhere

Francesca was born and raised in Genoa, Italy. All the women in her family had jobs outside the home. Her grandmothers were both entrepreneurs and her mother and aunt were both academically trained. “My mother studied physics and worked as a secondary school teacher. Her friends and colleagues who regularly came for dinner, all had a technical background”. At her own secondary school, Francesca’s teachers for the technical subjects were all women as well.

With such a background, it seemed obvious that Francesca would opt for a technical further education. However, it took a mini-internship with the biophysics group in the physics department of the University of Genoa to change her study plans from biology to physics. “As a child, I was not a nerd. Not the kind of person who takes things apart and tries to put them back together. I did love space travel and especially the stories behind it. In the mini-internship I got the chance to work with cells from rat brains and it finally made sense: it was going to be physics after all”.

She studied at the University of Genoa and came to the Netherlands in the Erasmus exchange program. As she loved the curriculum on solid state physics, she returned to Radboud University in Nijmegen after graduating to do her PhD on this subject.

Make a difference to the world

After obtaining her PhD, Francesca started working at TNO. Her traineeship consisted of two periods at TNO Delft and then at Holst Centre in Eindhoven. She stayed there after her traineeship ended. In 2019, Holst Centre seconded her to the then newly started Chip Integration Technology Center (CITC). In her role as program manager of the RF Chip Packaging program, Francesca could put together her team. “It is by sheer coincidence that the team is now largely made up of women. In the application procedures, the ladies turned out to be the best candidates. And once they joined the team, they didn’t want to leave”.

Being a program manager means attending a lot of meetings, not only at CITC and Holst Centre, but also with customers and within international projects. “Usually, I am the only woman present. And sometimes, I experience some bias being a woman and young”. Yet, Francesca loves her job. “I have a great job: I do what I want, what I like, and find it challenging. I do cool things, I learn new things, and contrary to popular belief: science is not boring at all. Physics is inspiring and as few people study it, it is special. It is a field that offers many opportunities, especially for women. You can combine your creativity and intelligence to make a difference to the world”.

Working with nerds

What about the prejudice that people who like physics are nerds? “Working with nerds is fantastic! It is all about science. There is no pressure to act a certain way, dress or adopt a lifestyle. You are judged less on things outside of work. That is a relief; you can be who you are. And by the way: you don’t have be a nerd to be good at science”.

Becoming a role model herself, Francesca has one last tip for aspiring female scientists: “Always introduce yourself with your name, title, and the fact that you have certain responsibilities. It may sound petty, but I’ve found it really works to dispel unconscious biases”.

In the picture from left to right: dr. Victoria Gomez-Guillamon Buendia – antenna designer, dr. Francesca Chiappini – program manager and dr. Tindara Verduci – cleanroom research scientist

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